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How to Utilize Beta Readers and Critique Partners: Guest Post by Virginia Nelson

Hello, everyone! I am now hosting authors on my blog. V.S. Nelson is the very first person to be a part of this momentous occasion for my website. V.S. is the first of several authors who will be gracing my site’s pages for the next several months and thereafter. Please, give her a friendly welcome!

How to Utilize Beta Readers and Critique Partners

by V.S. Nelson

First let us define the terms beta readers and critique partners. Simply put, a beta reader is someone who reads an author’s unpublished work.  He or she can be an author, but this isn’t a requirement. A critique partner is another author who you share your work with and expect feedback from.

Some authors use beta readers to read their work just before their story goes to print (or in this day and age, uploaded to a site like Amazon), while others, like myself; prefer to utilize two different types of beta readers. I call them pre and post. My pre-post-beta-reader reads my work prior to it being edited. I primarily use my pre-post-beta-readers to make sure I have a story and a good flow. I use their advice to enhance story lines, character developments and numerous other things. The main question I have for them is, do I have a story before I spend numerous hours on a piece of work that may or may not go to print?

Once I have evaluated their advice and put it to good use I begin my rewrites. When I am satisfied with my changes, I send the manuscript back out to them for another quick look. If no more suggestions are made, my work is then sent to my first (copy) editor. She, of course, makes a variety of suggestions and corrections, sends the work back to me for another round of rewrites.

When I have completed the rewrites (yes again) it goes back to one of my copy editors for a hard look. Confident the work is in primo shape, I send it to my line editor and am ready to share it with my post-beta-reader. I have them complete a form, much like a judge would use in a writing contest. The form allows me to see if there is anything else that might need to be tweaked before I consider it ready for publication.

I have, of course, promised a signed copy of the finalized version not available to the public for their services, other wise known as an ARC (Advanced Released Copy.)

Of course, during all this time, copies of chapters have been shared with my critique partners and upon receiving recommendations they have given, I make other necessary changes. Do not expect praises from your critique partners. In fact, other authors are the hardest to please as they should be. They are worth their weight in gold as they read over and critique your work with a fine tooth comb, nit picking the tiniest things you never saw… all in all they help develop your manuscript into a piece of art.

How does one go about acquiring beta-readers, you ask?  First rule of thumb is not to ask a close relative, like your mother, to read your story. She, like most of your best friends or your husband is too close to you to give you an unbiased opinion. You want someone who, above anything else, is HONEST and DIRECT. Hearing, “I couldn’t get into your story, or your hero lacks something.” is not what you want hear–but if it is the truth you need to hear it before you spend hours upon hours writing and rewriting a 400 page novel. This is why I request my pre-beta readers to read the unedited version. CONTENT, FLOW, and CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT are essential to every great novel no matter what genre’ you are writing in.

I’d like to give you ideas by sharing what I did with my first book in my paranormal series. I asked four completely different types of readers (not writers) to read it in its very early stage.

Sadly, my first beta-reader has long since passed on. I believe she read every paranormal that was ever published up until her untimely death. We shared similar taste in other authors and she knew the genre I was writing in, inside and out. Because of that, I was confident she would point out any flaws I had in my story.

The second beta-reader was one who hated—yes, I said hated—reading. Didn’t matter what it was, she simply detested sitting down and reading a book. My thinking was–in asking her to attempt to read it–if I could capture her interest–I knew I would be on to something good. Luckily for me, she loved it. She read the entire 480 plus pages in 5 days and begged for more. She has since started to like reading and buys books I recommend. Sadly, her time and her life have left her with little time to read and so I am no longer asking her to read for me. She has assured me when time allows she wants to rejoin my group of beta-readers.

My third beta-reader for the first book in the series was of the opposite sex. He soon became what I call my technical advisor and you will see why below. I write from multiple points of views including from the male perspective. Therefore, I felt it was essential to have a male beta-reader. It proved well worth the effort on my part. I soon received comments like, “A man would never say that…”, “a SUV is not a car—if it’s an SUV, say so”, He also helped me develop my fight and sex scenes from the man’s perspective. Since my series is action packed, I find it necessary to have an experienced educated man on automatic speed dial to answer questions like “How large is a 30.06 bullet hole at 100 feet?” or “How long can scuba diver remain underwater at 75 feet?”

My fourth beta-reader was my old text book editor. We have worked together for a very long time and I value her insight. She is no longer a beta-reader but my personal copy editor so her duties are now two folded because she stays with me through the end on each and every one of my books.

I realize I haven’t answered the question, “How does one acquire a beta-reader?” But I have shared who I selected. So look around and find someone who reads in your genre’, then find someone else you can trust with your work who you will benefit from, like some one of the opposite sex, especially if you are targeting both male and female readers. If you are writing YA then find a teenager. Use what will work for you, but make sure before you share your work with him or her, you both understand the rules.

A beta reader who is tempted to share your work with every one of their friends is not for you. Remind them, you have selected them—and them only.

Another thing I will remind you of is having too many people read your work will give you too many outside ideas. Don’t ask everyone you know or meet. Trying to please the twenty people who read your book and commented on it will eventually drive you to creating some major mistakes. Remember you can’t please everyone and please, above all else stay true to your muse. I’ve had not only agents but beta readers make some suggestions that went in the opposite direction the manuscript was intended. My muse is very vocal and wants “his” story told his way. I’m not a planner so I have no control over who my heroine or hero is. I suppose if you plan out your stories then you shouldn’t have a problem, but I do. Enough said.

Is there a difference between a critique partner and a beta-reader? Yes and no. A beta-reader can be another author where as a critique partner IS another author. How you utilize the skills of both is left up to you. I’ve heard repeatedly from established authors they will not read un-edited work. They simply do not have the time or want to read through grammar mistakes and undeveloped stores. What they want to receive is a clean, edited chapter – one at a time. Thankfully, one of my cps is happy to point out those grammatical mistakes I often overlook. Every critique group is different. Again, establish the rules and what is expected from each person involved. Some critique groups replace an editor’s job by correcting typos and grammatical mistakes. I choose to have both a copy and line editor and do not waste my cp’s time by having her correct my errors.

On the other hand, I do have on CP I call quite often with quick changes I have made, read her the chapter over the phone. She gives me immediate feedback. There is no need to bother my other critique partners at this point with the story as it develops. I reciprocate and do the same for her. It saves us both a lot of time without having to bog down our other partners with minor changes or ideas. The others will eventually see the finalized project before I am ready to go to print.

I hope this has given you another look into the world of writing and everything it entails. Please feel free to leave comments or ask questions below and I’ll try to get back to you as soon as possible.

Be sure to check out V.S. Nelson’s latest book, Eternal Blades! V.S. was kind enough to include a blurb and an excerpt of her book.

eternal blades

Tshering Snow never meant to fall hopelessly in love with her savior, the Ancient, known as Lance, but she did. He seems to care deeply for her, spending every available hour with her, but will he be able to give up his past and settle down with one woman?  After all, he has the reputation of a playboy.

Lance hates the personification he has created around himself. Afraid the others might not understand why; he has held back the truth from Gabriel and the other Guardians, he has waited for the right woman, the one Sekhmet prophesized so long ago. And now he has found her. When he is accused of fathering a child by both Gabriel and Tshering, how can he make them believe the child is not his, even if the boy is a spitting imagine of him?

After the women are attacked by Set’s Legions while relaxing on Jennifer’s new yacht, they come to the unanimous decision; they will train and join the Guardian forces. But that’s not as easy as it was meant to be. Old fashioned and hard headed, Gabriel is determined he will not having women fighting in their war. 

 When Tshering, Jennifer and Jessica are taken hostage by Set’s Legions all hell breaks loose on the Guardian’s compound. Lost without their mates, brother fights brother while they try save their women and put an end to the Legion’s terror. Will Sekhmet, the goddess they serve, step in and reveal the truth or will she leave them to find their own solutions to a never ending war as she has in the past? 

***

EXCERPT

***

Lance stopped just before they made their way to main floor of the estate. With both of his hands on her waist, he turned her around to face him.

“Are you sure you’re okay?”

There were still lines of worry on his face. When he first arrived back at the dock he ran to her, leaving someone else to care for his boat while he quickly checked her over for injuries. She assured him she was fine. His hands traveled over her entire body. In fact, she was more than fine. Seeing the love on his face, she would gladly endure it all over again. Her heart was pumping adrenaline faster than it ever had and it wasn’t just from the fight or the excitement of what transpired–she was once again reassured he cared deeply for her.

“Lance, I’m okay… really. I’m just worried about Marie. I didn’t mean to keep her underwater so long… but I didn’t have a choice… I was afraid if I returned to the surface too soon…”

“Honey, you did the right thing. You heard Michael, Marie is going to be fine. He only called the OB to be on the safe side.”

“I hope so…”

He tilted his head, placing his lips on hers, bringing her closer and into the comfort of his warm embrace. When they broke apart, she noticed his eyes were clouded with moisture.

He stroked her cheek with his thumb. “God, I thought I lost you… I’ve never been so scared in my life.”

She was amazed… no, shocked. Lance who was always so composed was rattled while she seemed to be holding it together.

“Lance, I’m fine, really… Come on, I think we need to go in the dining room. Gabriel is still waiting to hear what happened.”

“It won’t hurt my brother to wait a few more minutes… I just need to hold you for a while… Please?”

He wrapped his arms around her, pulling her closer to him.

“You’re sure your okay?” He asked again.

She nodded her head which was resting on his strong shoulder.

Seconds passed before he pulled back, smiled at her then took hold of her hand. “Come on, let’s go join the others.”

***

ABOUT V.S. NELSON

***

The perfect blend of tradition, history, romance, action and suspense.

meWith a love for history, Native American author V.S. Nelson, instructed elementary, high school and college in the U.S. and abroad before launching her second writing career.

V has been a story-teller all her life, always creating stories about people discovering the courage to make a difference. This drove her into writing her paranormal series centering on strong relationships and led her to coin the term: Ancient Legends, New Worlds.

She is well known for her “time management and sprint style writing,” producing well over five thousand words daily – consecutively.

V is available for speaking engagements, appearances and is more than willing to share her methodology with others in a variety of workshops.

A member of three RWA chapters she sits on several committees and judges writing contests across the states.

In Jan, 2013, Eternal Lovers, the first book in her eleven book paranormal series, Sekhmet’s Guardians launched with a fury. Being a series reader herself, she has held true to her promise by releasing no less than two books in the series per year in addition to her other work.

Where to find V.S. Nelson at:

Author website:                  http://www.authorvsnelson.com

Author blog:                         http://www.authorvsnelson.com/blog/

Facebook: (author)             https://www.facebook.com/authorvsnelson

(series)                https://www.facebook.com/SekhmetsGuardians

Twitter:                                 https://twitter.com/AuthorVSNelson

Authorsdb:                            http://tinyurl.com/c52uwt9

Goodreads                            http://tinyurl.com/dxgo35

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8 thoughts on “How to Utilize Beta Readers and Critique Partners: Guest Post by Virginia Nelson”

  1. We would not be a writing team if other authors used a male beta reader. The comments like you got about the “SUV” were the exact reason we started writing as a husband and wife team. Enjoyed the article very much..

  2. Great information, Virginia! I belong to an awesome critique group of 7 authors, all in different genres and stages of writing. Each brings a different ‘eye’ and skill to the table. Two of them are my Beta readers because they’re fast and they, again, look for different elements. When is all about plot and pace and the other is character and emotion. We all trust and respect each other enough to be honest and always helpful. My suggestion would be not to keep bringing revised material back to the same readers. Once, maybe twice but NEVER more than that. By that point, they’ve got preconceived expectations and aren’t as helpful as a new reader’s POV.

    1. Yep! I decided to open up my blog to other authors a few weeks ago, and you are my first guest of many I have lined up. Thank you so much for participating! I’m always happy to have you 🙂

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